Saturday, February 4, 2012

Start Writing and Don’t Stop

Do you have a writing project that you can’t seem to get moving on? Is there an article you need to finish, a short essay you need to begin, or page proofs you must attend to?

We all have different relationships with our writing, and most people have at least one kind of writing they find harder than other kinds. In this post, I will discuss one strategy that will help you to finish that very project that seems interminable.

The strategy I suggest is to find 20 to 30 minutes a day each weekday to dedicate to the project. (Or, try using a pomodoro timer.) When the time comes to work on it, turn off all distractions. Turn off your phone. Cut off the Internet. Put all of your reading material away. Open the document and work on it for 20 to 30 minutes.

56/365 morning run
Do not stop before 20 minutes are up for any reason. Well, anything that is not a real emergency, like a fire alarm. If, while writing, you realize you need a reference, or need to double-check a piece of information, or need to go back to your data, do not stop to check anything. Instead, make a note to yourself about that and find something else to do in the document that does not require fact-checking.

If you get stuck on a word choice, put down both words. You can make stylistic and grammatical changes later. There is no need to stop to check the thesaurus.

Don’t stop to check your data or to fix your tables. Just keep going and make a note to yourself.

Don’t stop for anything. It is only 20 to 30 minutes, and nearly all phone calls, emails, visitors, and even bathroom breaks can wait.

If you dedicate just 20 to 30 minutes to your writing project, you will be surprised to see how quickly you are able to move it along.

When you are nearly done, or when you find yourself with more time and less resistance, you may be able to take a longer writing session to tie things up. You can also use longer writing sessions to go back and check your references, make word choice changes, and fix your tables.

Concentrated, short writing sessions are often the best time to produce new prose, as this process takes lots of mental energy. By working on your project every day, with whatever time you have available, the ideas around the project will percolate in the back of your mind throughout the day, making it easier to get back in the saddle and begin to write again when the time comes.

Ready, Set, Write!


  1. I used the pomodoro method for the first time yesterday and it rocked! I often found myself going beyond the 25 minute segments. Great idea!

  2. Awesome! I used to use it only for writing, but recently used it to a) clean my office and b) fold laundry!

  3. You know, I am having this. exact. problem. right now, and came to the blog hoping for some inspiration! (And let's face it... to prolong the pain a little longer.) I love how timely this is -- ok, internet gets unplugged, and I'll try structuring this chapter again for just 20 minutes!

  4. Dear Tanya I have read your blog with great interest and I also think it is rather important to keep writing. But I wonder if you could do a post how to make this work when you have kids. My problem is that just as you I have kids and they get sick, again and again and I have to stay home with them (or work halftime since my husband takes the other half). Than means I can only do the work I really have to - that is my teaching and administration. So many times I have big plans on how much to focus on my writing but than, during winter, I only get to do my teaching and administration. so how do you make this work?

  5. Anonymous:
    There may be days when the kids are sick and you can't get anything done because you have to attend to them all day and shuttle them around to doctor's appointments.

    There may be other days when the kids are sick, and that means they spend much of the day sleeping or relaxing, which allows you some time to work. On those days, I try to carve out at least 30 to 60 minutes for writing. Then, I use the rest of the time to do what I absolutely need to do in terms of email and teaching.

    I suggest you ask yourself if you can carve out 30 minutes for writing. If not, then accept that, and move forward with what you can do. If you can, then focus for 30 minutes and see what happens.

  6. Ok thank for the advice. I will try this.

  7. Best of luck, and wishing you and the kids good health for the rest of the season!